Saturday, October 30, 2010

Final Thoughts Before Showering

They say that to err is to be human, but I think that more than that it is vulnerability from learning to live in our fragility (what we have done and left undone) that makes us human. We have and create so much pain trying to hide, fix or fall into the shame that often follows vulnerability.

Living in the Tenderloin, either on the streets for this week or in the condo where I spend most of my days, I see the homeless, hungry and addicted as the walking vulnerable in the streets. When I hear about the fear people express about my week living in the streets, I wonder if they are mistaking the vulnerability I see with danger.

Our world and our lives often directly contribute to the poverty and vulnerability of others. For example, in owning a condo, I am invested in the housing market rebounding and becoming even more unaffordable for others.

I don't know if there is a political solution for what seems to be a social problem. Sure, we need to urge politicians to create humane budgets that honor the vulnerable individuals we've promised to protect, we need to put our pocketbooks where our hearts are (donate now), we need to have individual interactions and not punish those with less for being grumpy and rightfully angry about their situations and we need to continue to pray for those things that seem beyond redemption.

There are simple solutions to some of these problems (not that they are easy to come by, but that we at least know how to solve them):
Homelessness is solved by housing;
Hunger is solved by eating;
Hopelessness is solved by hope;
Loneliness is solved by community and companionship;
Mistrust is solved by honesty.

Other issues require a step today followed by a step tomorrow but over time lead to something better than yesterday:
Mental health;

I pray that we become people who urge today to fix the things that are fixable if only we had the will and investment (read: money) to do so, who strive each day to become better at the things that we must work each day on, that we have compassion for/with those who may be marching circles around or away from their goal and to forgive ourselves when we expect ourselves to be anything other than vulnerable growing humans.

Location:Fools Court, Tenderloin, San Francisco

Friday, October 29, 2010

Day Seven: Just One More Night

This week I've been noticing the ways in which the homeless working poor venture around San Francisco. One of the things that I've been seeing all week that I haven't mentioned yet in any of my blog posts are the homeless folk that have been paid by local campaigns to care political signs for $10 an hour, or the folk in the GLIDE line that got paid $1 for each signature that they got from individuals in the line. The pitch to sign was: "sign this, I'll get a dollar." The information on the signature sheet left it to the imagination what it was that we were actually signing. It was something to do with reduced telephone fees for the poor, but without additional info it was hard to tell if we were signing in support or opposition.

I'm a big fan of getting people without resources access to resources, particularly through jobs that are well suited for their particular abilities. However, during this campaign season, I find it a misuse of power to have the very people these propositions or politicians will be cutting services for promote the very campaigns that will end their programs.

Paying homeless people to carry signs as if they are supporting the idea or person on the sign sends a false message to others who may want to vote for the person who is most likely to help the poor.

In the same way that people are urging for transparency in commercial sponsorship, it should be required at "grassroots" rallies and public signature gatherers and sign carriers to where t-shirts signifying that they are actually on the payroll of the group, idea or candidate they are supporting.

Tonight will be my last night on the streets and I'll get to go home to my own bed in the morning. I'm deeply looking forward to an end of this particular type of exhaustion in my life. I'm also excited to have more than just fried starchy foods in my diet again. I think my complexion and tummy will also enjoy this.

I feel confident as my street retreat ends, that what I have learned will benefit my work with the homeless for the rest of the year. If you have not yet taken the time to respond to my begging and send a gift large or small to Welcome (where I work with the chronically homeless all year long) I hope you'll click on the donation link on the top right of this blog.

I beg so others don't have to.

Thanks again for readying my adventures on the streets. I'll post another entry tomorrow and be adding some stuff that I didn't have computer access to add earlier.

My prayer tonight is that bosses everywhere will be aware of the power they have and think about the ethics of requiring their workers to preform their daily work duties. And of course for those who are without work to get some - and when they can, to get better jobs (in whatever way that means to them).

Have a blessed night, here's hoping that there is no more rain today! May you and yours be warm and dry tonight and every night.

Location:Starbucks, Polk and Van Ness, San Francisco

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day Six: Raw Emotion

Last night we had so much more cardboard than we needed to gather for our beds. In case you didn't know, the cardboard serves a two-fold purpose. First, it cuts the chill of the concrete, which sucks the heat out of your body. This thin layer of discarded trash can mean the literal difference between waking up alive or dead. Second, the cardboard makes the bed a little bit softer.

In fact, when I was on street retreat for two weeks living with the poor in Nicaragua card board on a bed frame was my mattress. Last night, because we had such an abundance, I got to sleep with two-ply. Like toilet paper, the extra layer makes a difference. Last night I only had to turn over twice because half my body had gone numb.

A better nights sleep lead to a much better morning. However, I have now arrived at one of the most sacred reasons that I embark on these street retreats. I am now emotionally raw. And sitting here in the Starbucks enjoying my favorite comfort food, a soy hot chocolate, I feel myself at the verge of tears. The exhaustion in my body and mind from being in survival mode for six days in a row has caught up with me.

Yet, unlike my normal need to function with very little wavering of feeling in order to balance the manic and erratic feelings of the chronically homeless I work with each day, today I get to have feelings. I get to feel the vulnerability of being a small hungry fish in a large pond full of hungry fish.

So, today I don't take things for granted. I get angry easily over injustice. I embrace the powerful moments and the roll in my belly with a sense of the sacred living around and in me.

One of the most moving moments of my day was when I was sitting with the Larkin youth (predominately homeless queer kids kicked out of their homes for being queer) as they spoke with a screaming queen from the Compton Riots and learned about the history of poor queers demanding their rights and to be treated with dignity I was hit with an overwhelming sense of call. An overwhelming sense that these moments were exactly what I was put on earth to do.

These are all thoughts I've had before in my head. But today, I'm enjoying the rawness of the streets, that brought me to a safe raw space to feel a bit mystical.

My prayers tonight are for all that live in the world feeling raw in an unsafe way, for compassion on safety for anyone considering ending their life (it gets better I promise), for those who live with domestic abuse with no way out, for those who feel covered in the fog of unending depression and for all that have forgotten what hope feels like.

I pray even more deeply that all may have the sense that they are mystical, that God is with them, for them and working through them. And if the idea of God creeps you out a bit, I hope for you a sense of purpose and peace.

Blessings upon blessings,

Location:Starbucks, Market and Polk, San Francisco

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day Five: Four doughnuts and a scone

Today, I lived off of yesterday's meetings. For breakfast I had two doughnuts from yesterday's staff meeting. For lunch I had two more doughnuts. Later in the afternoon I had a scone. I learned the hard way the consequences of working during the times when the food lines are open. After work I have never enjoyed beans and rice more, as I quickly consumed my super from Food Not Bombs, a local group that feeds people in protest of the priorities of the governments spending policies.

Later in the evening the generosity of the streets provided as I was able to take the other street retreaters out for dessert at Mel's Diner for Carmen's birthday. This added berry pie to the nutritional value of my day.

Despite the rising number of working poor in today's economy, there is a surprising lack of options for meals during the day. I suppose if I was on the streets longer I could make use of the food pantries that give away food on the weekends, but without a kitchen or a stove I'm not sure what good it would do. I suppose I could apply for food stamps and get a debit card that can be used at Subway, though I doubt the funds last very long when used on precooked food.

This lack of proper nutrition and emphasis on starchy filling foods is a large part of the reason the America's hungry are overweight rather than skinny. Farms can grow some of the food that can be eaten raw by the working poor, but I still long to put into practice a food pantry that gives out precooked food for those who live in buildings without kitchens or who work during regular food line hours.

Also, on a completely different subject, all those that are worried about my safety as I sleep on the street: know that nearly each night I me others who are afraid sleeping on the streets, others are so vulnerable or frail they could not hurt anyone. It seems tha the real danger is non-homeless people. Particularly on a night like tonight, it is those out drinking while watching the World Series that are out of control and unsafe.

Well, sleep beckons. Hope you and yours are warm and safe tonight. Prayers for all the people who pick produce in the fields, who stock shelves and who drive trucks.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day Four: Junk Food Lines

This morning the line for breakfast at Glide extended two full city blocks. Above is a photo of the second block of the line. When we finally arrived inside for food there was a notice on the wall that proclaimed that the coffee company who donated the coffee was no longer able to donate because of the economy, so there was no coffee this morning.

At a meeting earlier this month I learned that Glide was trying to figure out a way to cut its meals by 20%. For the first time Glide may have to limit people to just one meal or limit the number of people that they feed each meal. As I spend my day working at Welcome and operating our Tuesday drop in meal called the Welcome Center that provides a light lunch from 2-4pm, I wonder about the impact of Glide's cuts at small programs like Welcome. Our Saturday night dinners have already swelled from 100 to 300 this year.

It is believed that the breakfast line is so long because it is full of the working poor, who come for breakfast before heading off to work. It's hard to tell how the folk in line will spend the rest of the day just by looking at them, but the line is certainly younger and whiter then I've ever seen it before.

As, I enter my fourth day on the streets I notice that my ability to focus at work is equal to the amount of caffeine I've consumed to get my brain in order. I wonder how many of the hundreds who ate at Glide this morning were unable to concentrate at work the rest of the day, due to the loss of the coffee donation.

I've also noticed that because when I'm working I miss out on the free meal sites, that I have to consume more fast food than I typically would. I'll have to see how this affects my complexion and waist line. But it is certainly hard to tell the difference between waiting in the line at Glide for breakfast or waiting at McDonald's for the value menu. The clothing, smell and look of exhaustion seems to be the same.

In addition to food trouble, getting ready to go to work and trying to get rid of the look and smell of sleeping on the streets is certainly an ordeal. Bathrooms become shower stalls - with adult sized wet wipes for showers.

So, today I pray that everyone waiting in lines - whether it be for stamps, groceries, food, to pay tolls, etc - experience the compassion of a God who knows the frustration of feeling like all of life is waiting. This God reverses the orders of lines and social structures.

Peace be with you all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Day Three: All Work and No Play

Today I learned that one of the biggest difficulties working and sleeping on the street is that you miss all the services that start after you work and end before work is finished. While the daily grind gave me something to do and passed the hour more quickly, they also made me more dependent upon the generosity of collegues and friends. I didn't have the option to choose an anonymous meal. It also made me wonder how long it would take to transform a unique opportunity to help someone who spends so much time giving to others, before I was seen as an obnoxious person who is only know for begging for what I need.

Professionally I beg all the time: for supplies for the homeless, for grants and donations (you can send yours online through the link on the right), as offering and for volunteers. Yet these forms of begging are written into the service or are acceptable because I'm asking at the behest of others.

Tonight I was grateful for Sacred Cocktails and the opportunity for a free meal and drink surrounded with a great talk ad great people. Afterwards as I prepared my sleeping bag I ran into a reoccuring friend from several street retreats. Now sober and housed, he was working to create safe places for other GLBT homeless folk. It was inspiring to see how far one person could come and the way one chance encounter on a street retreat could lead to such total life transformation.

He other thing I'm noticing from working and sleeping on the streets is how exhausted I am at night. While it makes it easier to fall asleep with the roaring traffic going by, it makes it harder to blog in my phone here in the dim light of the doorway. So, I'll call it a night and blog more in the morning. Good night all. Sweet dreams.

Location:The steps of First Unitarian Universalist Church, San Francisco

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Day Two: Longing for Safe, Dry Sanctuary

In many ways, rain is a great equalizer. People who are outside in the rain tend to all look the same, like over bundled drippy people slogging to wherever they are headed. Yet, for those who have nowhere to head (like me today) the ability to find a small warm space to give the water a chance to roll of your back is more important than ever.

Interestingly, this is a great motivator for many to head to church. Though rainy days is a time when many housed parishioners may decide to skip church because they don't want to leave warm beds to head out in the rain. It is such a blessing to those with no dry sanctuary can find that in churches.

Right now, my sanctuary is the public library. I remember when I was little that my mother would drop me off at the library while she worked. I loved the books and that I could play Oregon Trail on the computers for one hour a day. It was only years later that I realized that the other kids I had spent time with and most of the others in the Sioux Falls, SD library were homeless folk.

Since I was just in Washington DC this past week, I've been thinking about the way that Abraham Lincoln was used as the symbol of the American dream. His portrait stands out in the middle of the Library of Congress dome as a reminder that he was a self made man who gained his education through public libraries rather than through a college or university.

While I'm grateful that public libraries offer that same opportunity for people to have equal access to education, I also know that libraries across the country have become the mainstays for homeless folk - particularly in areas where other valuable services are being cut. I've read several articles this year about how librarians have had to take on roles of being like a social worker because of this issue.

Access to education is certainly one way to help those living in poverty to improve their quality of life. But, when they don't have access to prescription glasses or enough sleep to focus on reading, it's not true access.

Here at the San Francisco Public library they have a rule that if you fall asleep you have to leave. The rule makes me think back to my night sleeping on the cold concrete tucked in the doorway of a church with a garbage bag wrapped around the bottom of my sleeping bag to prevent it from getting too wet. While I was warm enough, my sleep was interrupted by the fact that I had to constantly wake up throughout the night as half my body would go numb and I needed to flip over. As it got closer to dawn, the time between numbness grew shorter and shorter and so did sleep.

Since this is only the second day of my street retreat I'm not so exhausted yet that I'm tempted to fall asleep in the library. But I wonder on a cold, rainy day like today where I could go if I needed to rest.

Most congregations are not cool with a cold stranger coming to sleep in the pews. And since I'm directing my thoughts towards what it feels like to be a part of the working poor, I can really see how having spaces to rest and refresh before work would be vital to survival. If I was truly homeless I would do whatever it took to keep my job, since that would be my quickest way to eventually be able to acquire shelter.

Since, yesterday morning I was in New York I also wonder about that promise on the Statue of Liberty telling the tired huddled masses that they could come and be free. I also wish that promise would have included keeping them safe, warm and feed.

Somehow all these jumbled thoughts bring me back to the image of the dry bones. The promise that God can breathe life into weary bones and revive them is something I ardently pray for today. May the God who promises justice provide hope and strength to the wet ones in San Francisco.

I hope you and your family are dry and safe this beautiful Saturday.

I leave you with this image of Kay (a retired Unitarian Universalist pastor) that I'm on retreat with. Today at Glide, we ate breakfast together. And her sense of humor made me smile. I was glad that she could bring that Franciscan sense of the fool to our meal.

Location:Grove St,San Francisco,United States

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day One: 95 theses on poverty

Today, was day one of my working street retreat. If you haven't read my previous blog, I'm working during my retreat this year to bring attention to the growing number of working poor in the United States. And since it is the week before Reformation Sunday, I'm also incorporating a reformation theme into my writing and meditations throughout the week.

My writings below are certainly not all theses, complete sentences or even statements. Some are questions, some are bits of thoughts and some may not even be that important. But there are 95, which is a lot harder that I thought it would be.

I hope it captures your attention enough to want to read my Reformation week blogging about my life living on the streets for 7 days and 7 nights in San Francisco's Tenderloin. I'll post at least one blog each day from October 23-30. Be sure to hit "refresh" or "reload" on your browser each day to see the new blogs.

1) in addition to daily bread, all people ought to have access to healthy food
2) communion meals that offer crumbs to a hungry world, lack the nourishment of the original Eucharist meal
3) communion wafers are not food
4) food allergies were knit into us by God in our mother's womb. Failing to provide safe alternatives for those with wheat or grape allergies does harm to the body and soul.
4) communion that only has alcoholic wine, ignores the sin of addiction - a disease that the church has not found ways to adequately live with, create boundaries around and speak openly and honestly about
5) Matthew 25 tells us that when we see someone naked, we should clothe them. when we see someone hungry, we feed them, etc. This does not require a committee.
6) the same crisis that plagues our countries housing and mortgages, also plagues our churches - the number of churches whose life or death relies on their ability to afford their building or who are living solely of the income of their building is astounding.
7) all people deserve pastors, even people who cannot afford a church building, a home or to attend Synod or Churchwide Assemblies
8) if we live long enough we will all become disabled
9) as long as the poor cannot afford dental care (or the only dental care available only pulls teeth) and we shop at stores where only people with a full set of teeth work - we will always have an unemployable class of citizens in the US
10) Luther's last words were: "we are all beggars." Yet, begging is not allowed at ELCA gatherings (unless coming from videos or approved messages at a microphone)
11) if we were able to create 4 community gardens on unused church space, for free and grow more than 2,400 pounds of food in less than 8 months with all the unused lawn space around churches across the country, we could end hunger.
12) those who say it's better to show up and volunteer, than to write a check have never tried to raise money to fight poverty (p.s. you can send checks to Welcome, 1751 Sacramento St, San Francisco 94109 or donate online at
13) socks (white ones with gray athletic toes and heals) are probably the only thing a person wouldn't sell to get something else
14) it is unjust that prison and war are often seen as better than living in poverty - and yet both lead to homelessness and unemployment
15) When Jesus' mom asks: "what's wrong with you? were you born in a barn?" Jesus answers: "yes." Perhaps that's why some of his most ardent followers are smelly, don't follow social convention and thus the church ought to have an open door policy.
16) if someone you loved knit you a scarf, you'd take care of it right? then how much more ought we take care of all the ones God knit in their mother's womb?
17) consider the lilies...
18) the greek word for dove is the same word as pigeon. If we imagined the Holy Spirit to be a pigeon (and overwhelmingly everywhere), would we still think justice had to wait for heaven?
19) education should be free for all - and teachers given a higher status in society.
20) the only solution to homelessness is housing.
21) are those with more money and power able to sin the most boldly and proclaim their beliefs more bolder still?
22) how much money and power do you have to have before you can be seen as enlightened for experiencing the same things that get others put in a mental hospital?
23) I wish Jesus would not have said: "the poor you will have with you always." What was that about? If only had had talking-points!
24) the practice of gleaning is now called stealing
25) more grain rots than is needed to feed all the hungry people in the world - in part because the US cannot figure out how to export it without it rotting at sea or get other countries to accept genetically altered crops.
26) The meek may inherit the earth, but those living in poverty need someone with a voice to not only call for justice, but to make it reign.
27) When we convince ourselves and others that the little that we can do to help end hunger or poverty is enough because it is the best we can do, we are lying to ourselves... at least I am.
28) No matter how much money you make, there is still no way you can pay enough to experience how much better food tastes when you grow it yourself - unless you actually grow it yourself.
29) only when we stop believing that those living in poverty or in homelessness must "earn" food, shelter or compassion, will we (as a society) fulfill our ability to feed, shelter and have compassion for all.
30) Just because we have no fair formula of making reparations (I'm not even talking monetarily) to the native Americans, former slaves, abused individuals, interned Japanese, and countless, endless list of others - doesn't mean we shouldn't try, or that we can justify racist economic systems.
31) God moves without seconds and I don't recall God ever giving prophets the opportunity to vote before prophesying.
32) I am so privileged to know when my time of living on the streets will begin and end (Oct. 23-30)
33) 95 theses is a lot, good for you for continuing to read these. I hope you'll add to the comments below to add the theses that I forgot.
34) this week I heard someone wonder why food pantries gave out canned foods but no can openers. how many other ways is the food we try to share unconsumable?
35) Bonhoeffer believed that if we all ate at the same table, there would be no hunger because we would share and wouldn't be able to eat if the others around us were going with out. He's right. But, this generation would have to reverse a lot of its individualistic trends in order to pull of large banquets.
36) are people more likely to eat unhealthy food when it is expensive (and prestigious) or when it is cheap and the only thing many can afford.
37) if you are watering anyway - would you rather the water feed grass or people (through a produce garden). Though we should remember gardens require much less water than lawns.
38) How much effort would you go to for a meal with someone beloved to you who is departed? Then why not go through that much effort when you eat with Jesus (ie when you eat with one of the "least).
39) if you give less money to organizations that feed the homeless during lean times, they will have less money when they have more work to do than normal. What if you're boss paid you that way?
40) why do we assume something is wrong with people who don't want to follow our rules. Are we more interested in protecting people or rules?
41) How much food do you throw away each week because it spoils in the fridge, it's inconvenient to carry/save or simply because you can.
42) If you are someone seeking to hear the voice of God. Know that if you succeed, you could be diagnosed as mentally ill.
43) What if people were paid based for the wear and tear on their bodies as a part of their salaries. Not simply the stress of working on the job, but when we know a job causes cancer, breaks backs, kills, or scars shouldn't we compensate people in the same way that people are charged for damage on a rental car?
44) salt is salty, except for when it's not salty. salt. (a joke for those who read biblical greek and wonder what Jesus is talking about in the strange section about salt in the Gospel of Mark).
45) three things are true: death; taxes and it's really hard to find a public restroom if you look poor in San Francisco.
46) poverty is a state of mind.
47) I'm thinking about Sojourn Truth. She was so moving a preacher that no one believed she was female. Reports are that she flashed her breasts to disprove the charge. The surprise that women can be powerful justice advocates, is silly. After all an overwhelming number of the participants in all the Great Awakenings were always women.
48) There is also of course the famous Timothy text encouraging young folk to speak out. We often say that the youth are ahead of their time. Why don't we instead say that older folk are behind the times. I say the answer is somewhere in the middle. Young folk need the wisdom of those who have lived through the latest trends and older folk need younger folk to uncomfortable and unretire them.
49) voting can never resolve -ism's (racism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, classism, etc), yet not voting entrenches -ism's.
50) If law is on the side of business, and helping the poor is not profitable, how can we ever expect the law to be on the side of helping the poor if we do not seek to change the laws?
51) we ought to pray for what we have done and left undone around issues of poverty.
52) why are we so much better at responding to global poverty as a country than homelessness and hungry within the US?
53) why do the excuses about not being able to help the homeless and hungry always start with sentences about the safety of children? Particularly, since 1 in 4 children go hungry in the US each day. In your childhood think of the number of times you were hurt by a random stranger. Now, how many times were you hurt by family and friends? The overwhelming majority of crimes come from the 2nd group.
54) If you had infinite amounts of money what would you buy? Would you buy for yourself first or those with the "least"? How much would you give away?
55) rain, rain go away. Don't come back until after my street retreat is over!
56) If we demanded universal access to mental health care - care that was holistic and not only based on psychology, one of the biggest barriers between the homeless and finding a true home would be lifted.
57) If it was true that people would not work if everyone was given equal pay, why is it so hard for retired people to stop working?

58) A man knocked on the door of Old First Presbyterian Church, after being turned away from 7 other churches. The secretary listened and learned he wanted to do work at the church in exchange for a place to live. Some of the wealthiest members of the congregation let him live with them while he died of AIDS. Turns out he invented the style of painting with stencils above and painted on church ceilings all over Italy. The painting is now the symbol of the church. How many churches have lost what could possibly redefine them, by not listening to the stranger at the front door?
59) Read Bernie Glassman's Bearing Witness. It guides the street retreats that I go on with the Faithful Fools.
60) Last time I was on a rainy street retreat, I heard a man in the Glide food line say: "forty days and forty nights of rain, I can barely stand three."
61) When we pray for daily bread, who do we think will actually provide the bread. Not just on a spiritual level, but on a physical level?
62) In California bottles and cans are guaranteed to be worth actual cents. Despite paying a fee when buying drinks, most people throw the cans away or recycle them from their home rather than redeeming the money back that they paid for the can or bottle. This means people are literally throwing away money. When others without money try to take the money out of the recycling bins, they can be charged with stealing. So, we literally live in a society where people have a legally protected right to throw away their money and those without money are asked to watch others throw away money and do nothing to improve their lives. Makes no cents to me.
63) How much does it cost to attend your church? Think about: the type of clothes you must wear; how much you have to put in the offering to not have people look at you; the cost of remembering someone through the flowers; the kind of job required for a position on the council; the cost of going on the yearly retreat or on a youth trip; etc.
64) How often do you pray for the homeless away from church?
65) Would you be able to ask for help before it's too late? Many of the homeless (particularly the seniors) I work with cannot avoid time living on the streets. Often times there are options that they can access to avoid life on the streets (I'm talking about preventing homelessness), but by the time the individual comes to me it's too late to do anything because they waited too long to ask for help.
66) Would you rather sleep on the streets or in a shelter? On the streets you're vulnerable to the elements and to hooligans. In the shelter you live with people with mental illness and trauma and always feel confused by staff who frequently change the rules and yell at you.
67) How much would you spend to prevent a family member from becoming homeless? Do they know that? Would they ever ask you for help?
68) At most churches I go to I hear the stories of people who have children with severe mental illness or drug addiction who have or are currently experiencing homeless. There are also a good number of people who have been homeless for a time when they lived in a car, on the streets or on someone else's couch. If you don't know anyone at your church with these experience, I wonder why your church is not the kind of place people feel comfortable sharing these parts of their lives.
69) There is no "right" thing to do when someone begs you for money. Do what you think is best, then hope for a day when you can do more.
70) The disciples had to take nothing with them and stay in the homes of the first house they saw. Would you have let them stay with you if they knocked on your door?
70) The amount of money it costs for one night in a medium priced hotel could be used to feed 300 people. Consider a staycation - where you vacation in your own home or at friends/relatives house and donate the money you would have spent on the hotel to a homeless/hungry program.
71) If you do stay in hotels, collect the toiletries that come each day and donate them to homeless programs. They are the perfect size for the for the homeless and organizations are always running out.
72) One of the most exhausting parts of my street retreats is the back pain.
73) The Canticle of the Turning (a fantastic hymn) has a line that makes me cry every time: the hungry power will weep no more for the food they can never earn. There are tables spread, every mouth is fed, for the world is about to turn."
74) Mark 6:23 - "You Feed Them" This commandment from Jesus comes before questions about resources. And even then, the commandment remains along with the expectation that people will be fed.
75) In the greek, the word "minister to" and "feed" is the same, at least for modern translators who translate the word "koinonia." Typically this is part of sexist translating as the same used talking about men is translated "minsters" and when talking about women is translated "feeds." If we get rid of the sexism we have a great example of how evangelism and ministry require us and always have something to do with physically feeding people.
76) There are 3 times in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus miraculously feeds people. The number of people fed gets lower each time (from 5,000 to 4,000 to just the disciples in the boat), yet even with less to do the disciples think feeding people is impossible. Perhaps this problem still exists in some churches today.
77) Money doesn't grow on trees, but food does.
78) In San Francisco it is against the law to sleep in your car, but not to sleep on the sidewalk in front of your car.
79) It is my experience that when I finally have the courage to ask for the help that I need that people typically thank me fore asking for help and then do the best they can to help me. Yet, my perception is that if I ask for help it is a burden on others. I wonder where I learned that?
80) Poverty is as poverty does.
81) FDR said that we should seek not for an end to wars, but to an end of the beginning of wars. I wish we could do the same for homelessness.
82) In the Jewish tradition, individuals get mitzvah's or blessings for doing good deeds (among other things). However, the idea is not that you do a mitzvah for the sake of others. Rather, that it is a gift to the one doing the deed to do it.
83) Current political ads talk about "entitlements" and budget slashing like it is a way to balance books and has no effects on real lives. It's hard to believe people would put on tv the fact that they thing elders and the disabled should receive less than minimal funds they get that barely provide for safe housing.
84) If you only had $25 every 2 weeks, as those on General Assistance in San Francisco do, what would you eat? Consider that you may need to buy things other than food (like tampons, ladies?).
85) What would Jesus buy?
86) Many homeless people have foot problems because they leave their shoes and socks on 24/hrs a day - to prevent them from getting stolen.
87) The best book of the Bible to ready when you are angry at God for all the injustice in the world, is Isaiah.
88) Then, you should read Job to be reminded that God is God, and we are not.
89) More than any other group, Jesus says that the prostitutes will go to heaven before us.
90) I like the parable of the lost coin as a metaphor for God's care and salvation. I also like it because it is God who did the losing, not anything we did. A coin cannot lose itself. The message is that even if it was true that God outcast someone, that God is one who changes and grows (like us I hope) and will search and search for God's precious lost ones.
91) If you still are uninterested in helping the homeless or those in poverty, I wonder what it would take. What if I said: pretty please?
92) Neither death nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, can ever separate us from the love of God ... and yet we let so many tiny things separate us from our neighbor.
93) Yes, I know that sleeping on the streets, particularly in the rain is bad for my health. But more than 4300 other folk will also be sleeping on the streets in San Francisco tonight. And I bet you care more than you ever did before, because you know me (in real life or virtually). I spend most of my time as a pastor affirming people and helping them heal. This week I hope to provoke you into feeling deeply for those you may rarely think about the rest of the year.
94) Food is a human right.
95) It is not possible to leave poverty if you are not allowed your dignity.

Location:Out on the rainy streets of San Francisco

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reformation manifesto against poverty & homelessness and for pastor self care

Times Square New York

My last night indoors before my 7 days and 7 nights on the street this year I'm spending in Times Square. It wasn't planned to be an intentionally poetic thing. I'm doing a panel talk at CUNY's Graduate Center tonight for Out History. I fly back in the early morning and then head immediately to Davis, CA to preside at the closing worship of the Sierra Pacific Hunger Network's gathering. Then, I'll head immediately to Old First Presbyterian for the Saturday Community Dinner which will feed about 300 people. Afterwards I'll be joining the group of fools (no really, that's what we call ourselves - Faithful Fools after St. Francis of Assisi) and I'll be one of the huddled masses sleeping on the concrete outside of First Unitarian Universalist Church.

This street retreat, I'll be working on and off while I sleep on the streets at night. While this is a little different from past years, I think it will be a revelatory experience. First, I always find it helpful to feel how it feels in my bones to participate in the typical activities that I regularly ask homeless volunteers to participate in. Experiencing it helps me to understand what are unhelpful rules or just make life more difficult and painful for folk.

Another purpose of my continuing to work is to highlight the struggles of the working poor. This time in our economy more than ever, there are so many people working jobs that don't pay all their bills. Even I, someone very well off compared to the lives of those living on the streets, is currently working more than one job in order to get out from under debt, to pay my exceedingly high mortgage and because I haven't had a raise in three years.

And though there are a million reasons that my working while on street retreat can be illuminating, the final one I'll give here, is that during this week before the anniversary of the Reformation I want to highlight the way that pastors that chose to serve those with the least are consistently overworked and underpaid.

Without the ability to get good self care (through vacations, time off to think, time away from crisis and time away from bill worries both at work and home.

So for all these reasons, and all those that will come to me along the way, I officially declare my street retreat (from October 23 - 30) a call for a reformation to: solve domestic poverty; to pay living wages for individuals and families; and to provide self care and support with our prayers, money and priorities for pastors, particularly those engaged in community ministry or the diaconate, to get the self care they need.

Join me on my street retreat/reformation at:

And since I will beg on the streets, and in most of these notes, you might as well get used to me begging you to support the vital work that I'm able to do at Welcome. (via the mail: 1751 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94109 or via the interwebs at:

I get the privilege of developing creative ways for folk to respond to poverty - whether they live in it or not. If you feel like my blog will entertain you as much as a movie, give $11. If it makes you think like a book would, give $25. If it feels like church, consider tithing %15 of next weeks salary. If you learn as much as a college class consider donating $255. If it changes your life, or at least your perspective, how much is that worth to you?

Since most of my time is spent finding ways to make things free that people in poverty can't afford, I won't be upset if you don't give. But, anything you do give will help me spend less time begging (and more time helping those living in poverty improving their quality of life) when my street retreat is over.

Blessings upon blessings to you and yours. May you be warm and fed, today and all the days of your life.

Pastor Megan

Location:Time Square, NY, NY,United States

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Annual Begging Letter

Welcome is a safety net for so many individuals who are homeless and hungry in San Francisco, but now we need your help to restore Welcome's fiscal safety net. Please help us raise the $20,000 we need to restore our savings and endowment funds to its 2008 level.

Your support now, will enable Welcome to spend less time fundraising, and more time giving one-on-one support to our guests, enabling them to move indoors, live more independently and participate more fully in their community.

Even in the midst of economic difficulties, Welcome has continued to enable individuals and congregations to participate in creative projects that address the core causes of hunger and homelessness.

This year, our community gardening project created gardens at Bethlehem Lutheran in West Oakland, Shepherd of the Hills in Berkeley, St. Mark's and St. Paulus Lutheran churches in San Francisco. To date, these gardens have harvested more than 2,400 pounds of produce which was given away for free. Our new program, Project Faith Connect (PFC) organized faith groups to make 1,000 sack lunches so that participants at the Golden Gate Park Project Homeless Connect could gain access to the vital health, city and non-profit organizations and complete in a day what would typically take months. In partnership with the San Francisco Interfaith Council, we'll be collecting 2,500 blankets for the homeless in December. Our Saturday dinners have enabled more than 6,000 hungry individuals to eat a restaurant quality meal with volunteers at the only free meal available in San Francisco on a Saturday night.

This October 23rd through 30th, I'll once again be sleeping on the streets of San Francisco to bring attention to homelessness and literally begging you to support the life saving work that Welcome provides. I invite you to follow my blogging from the streets at:

I beg you to send as little or as much as you can to support my street retreat and Welcome.

Faithfuly yours,

Rev. Megan Rohrer
Executive Director

P.S. I beg, so hundreds of others don't have to. Your support now enables those with the least to have food and pastoral support.